I am a novice at bus travel in Mexico but I had a chance to travel with the Escapees Mexican Connection group over the border a couple of months ago. It was a very interesting and fun experience. If you have any interest in traveling south of the border, here is some helpful information.
On February 11th, 2019, I met up with 99 other people in 55 RV’s in Potrero County Park, in Potrero, CA. This town is located about 45 miles east of San Diego and about five miles from the Tecate, Mexico border. Many of us fueled up just before getting to the park as some people are not very trustworthy of the fuel in Mexico but I fueled up once with the bus and twice with my car south of the border and had no problems.
A few days before that, our Wagonmaster and the Parking Committee arrived ahead of us to plan the parking arrangement in the three locations we would be camping. They also traveled across the border in Tecate to scope out our first-day walking trip and to discuss options to bring a large group of 100 RV’ers across the border. This is an annual event so most of the leaders had already done this before.
As we arrived on Monday the 11th we all were given our parking assignments. I was very lucky as I was parked right next to the pavilion, our meeting room. By 3:00 in the afternoon everyone had arrived and we all attended a Meet and Greet happy hour and dinner at 4:00 PM.
On Tuesday the 12th we had all day meetings starting at 9:00 AM where our President Ed Dennis and Wag-onmaster Kassandra Dennis who own and operate An RVers Friend at many rallies as well as in Quartzsite in January, kicked off the meeting. They sell many products suited to bus conversions and RV’s as well as giving seminars on living in an RV and have traveled extensively in Mexico.
It started out with a PowerPoint presentation on Intro to Traveling in Mexico in an RV. They taught us several things, one being that drivers in Mexico frequently pass on a solid yellow line and it seems to be acceptable by the local authorities. Our group, the last one, had a police escort in front and behind us for the first segment of our trip and several cars and trucks passed them and all of our rigs more than once. They did not even seem to care. We did not need an escort, but we told them we were coming and they wanted to come along anyway. They even took our picture at the end of this part of the trip to show their friends.
When someone in Mexico is attempting to pass a truck on a solid yellow line, the truck will signal that the coast is clear by turning on his left turn signal. That either means that he is turning left, or that it is safe to pass on the left as he can see what is up ahead easier than the car behind him. It seems ironic and a bit scary doesn’t it? But it works for them.
Speed limit signs are all in Kilometers but it is pretty easy for us Americans to do the conversion in our head. All you do is multiply the speed by approximately 0.6. So 110KM/hr., the highest speed limit I saw, is equivalent to about 66 MPH. More common is 80KM/hr. which is about 48MPH which is very common on highways. The strange thing is that you may see an 80KM sign followed a few hundred feet by a 40KM sign with no obvious reason why, so you have to be on alert at all times. Also, as are solid yellow lanes, speed limits seem only to be a suggestion in Baja.
At the first meeting, we also were told which of seven groups we would be in. Smaller groups of RVs make traveling much easier especially when traveling through densely populated areas. Group members had been decided by the group leaders before we arrived. There were up to nine RV’s in each group. At the end of the meeting, we all broke up into smaller groups and sat around in lawn chairs and met and eventually became close friends with everyone in our group. The group leaders had experience from previous trips so they taught us the ropes and explained how we would cross the border the following day.
On Wednesday morning we all drove our cars to the Tecate border parking lot and walked to the border crossing where we picked up our FMM cards (Forma Migratoria Múltiple) Tourist Card and paid the $24 which was good for up to 180 days. This is not a visa, but similar, as every tourist who crosses the border and stays more than 72 hours must have one.
The FMM card and a passport are all that is required to cross into Mexico. Everyone going to Mexico has to fill out the card. If you are staying less than seven days, as long as you turn it in when you return across the border, you do not need to pay this fee.
With a group of close to 100 people, we went in seven groups to the border and it took us close to three hours to all fill out the simple form because there was only one official verifying our credentials and collecting the money that day so we did a lot of waiting that day. We got to know our new friends even more while we waited.
We then walked across the border which was very easy. They didn’t even ask us for our Passports or anything else for that matter. I guess they figured the man inside the building who gave us the FMM card checked us all out, but there were no checks after that. It would have been easy for anyone to walk into Mexico at that crossing. Getting out of Mexico, well, that is a different story.
We had lunch in Tecate in a small open café and tried out the local cuisine. It was great and everyone enjoyed it. We then all walked to the Tecate Brewery and each of us had one free sample. That is all we could have because they didn’t sell beer at the brewery.
From there we went to the town center and several people took a photo of the Tecate sign and we walked around a bit more. Then we went to a bakery where many folks bought up to a week’s supply of bread and other pastries. They were delicious. It then started raining slightly so we decided to head back across the border and back to the campground for the remainder of the afternoon.
Everyone obtained Mexican driver's insurance before we arrived at the U.S. campground as it is highly recommended if you plan to drive into Mexico. Many of us obtained Mexican Drivers Insurance as this pro-vides liability insurance for any vehicle you drive south of the border. Because I drove my 1967 Eagle bus down and towed a car, I chose this method so I was covered for driving either vehicle in Mexico. Some people had Class B’s so we did a lot of carpooling while there making even more friends.
Thursday the 14th was Valentine’s Day. After a group breakfast, it was a free day for all. The only event that was recommended was to dump your tanks and take on fresh water and do any last-minute shopping before crossing the border the following day. It was a rainy day but we all managed just fine.
On Friday, we all packed up our rigs and headed in seven groups of up to nine rigs to the border where we crossed in our RV’s to head south. Everyone in the group was required to have a CB radio and we were all identified first by our group number then by our RV number. For example, I was in group seven and was the last RV, (the Tail Gunner) of a group of nine rigs in our group so my call sign was 7-9.
We didn’t all head to the border at the same time as that would have been too chaotic. The first group, the Parking Committee, left first from Potrero at 6:30 AM so they could scope out the second camping spot south of the border and get everything prepared for our arrival. The next group left at 8:00 AM and the others left at half-hour intervals. I was in the last group and we left at 10:30 AM for about a three-hour drive.
When the first rig in the group crossed the border or saw something to be careful of, they would radio back to the rest of the group as to what was going on. If a car was passing the group from the rear, it would be my responsibility to radio ahead and let the rest of the group know someone was passing the group and they would radio on down the line as the car passed each rig. Crossing the border took only a few minutes. A Border Patrol agent walked inside our big RV’s and only glanced in the smaller ones.
As mentioned before, it was not uncommon for someone to pass each RV in the group on a solid yellow line, even on curves, so we would pass the word up to the front of the line where they were so we could all watch out for them. If there were large potholes, as there were a few, the first RV’er would radio back to the rest of us to let us know how best to avoid them. If there was a bicyclist on the edge of the road, were all notified. If there was beautiful scenery or some-thing unusual, we all heard about it.
We convoyed on to our next camping location. It was not a campground; it was the Zoologico Parque del Nino about 20 miles north of Ensenada. For the first time ever, they allowed a group of RV’s to park in their overflow parking lot in the back only a few hundred feet from the rear gate of the Zoo. This arrangement was set up by our President and Wagonmaster on a pre-trip a few months before. There we would hear the animals day and night as they talked to each other. For more information about the Zoo, visit their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/zoologi-cojersey/.
There were no hookups so this was dry camping only, but everyone knew there would be dry camping ahead of time and everyone was well prepared for this as many had solar panels and almost every rig had a generator, either built-in or portable. Nobody seemed to mind and we were very lucky to be able to stay there for four days and nights listening to the animals.
We had all arrived by about 1:30. We immediately carpooled to the local winery and took the tour at the Monte Zanic Winery. This winery is known in the area for producing some of the highest quality wine. There we toured the winery which was followed up by wine tasting. Here we broke up into four groups and each took a different route around the winery.
On Saturday we were very fortunate to have a Mexican breakfast catered to us in the Zoo by the Zoo staff. It was a traditional Mexican Breakfast and was wonderful. The Zoo is run by a family who had a farm and was very successful in milk products and wanted to share their experience with the children in the area. The father is now gone so his wife and older children run the zoo the same way he ran it for years. The family are wonderful people and devote all of their efforts to the zoo.
After that we broke up into three groups and had a guided tour of the zoo and all of the animals by the owners and staff. We also were given the Behind the Scenes tour where we saw the Veterinary Clinic and leaned how they cared for their animals. We learned that they work with the San Diego Zoo to trade ani-mals for breeding and also where they obtain most of their hand-me-down equipment. We also learned they really needed a portable X-Ray machine that they could carry out to the larger animals. They only had one stationary unit in the small room in their clinic and they were saving their pesos to buy a smaller used machine.
We then went to the room where they prepared the food for such a variety of birds and animals. They prepare most of their food a day in advance and they prepare it in unique ways to make the animals hunt for their food by hiding it in different places every now and then. They hide the food in natural objects so the animals have to work for their food. This keeps the animals interested and keeps them learning and simulates the natural environment.
On Tuesday the 19th we traveled to La Jolla Beach Camp which is about an hour south of Ensenada. Again we convoyed in seven groups and I was the last one to arrive in the early afternoon. About 90% of the RV’s had a parking spot right on the beach over-looking the ocean. Others that needed electric hook-ups, parked back in the second or third row as hook-ups were non-existent on the beachfront sites. This camp caters to a lot of American tourists and some have lived there since the ’70s, many in retirement full time. Click here for more information about this camp. http://www.lajollabeachcamp.com/
Full hookups at La Jolla Beach were very limited but the Honey Wagon came around about every other day or so, as well as the freshwater truck. The water truck brought Reverse Osmosis water because the water at the tap at the campground was not all that great. Both Water and the Honey Wagon were reasonably priced.
The weather was a bit chilly there for a couple of days but we had a meeting room that fit all of 100 us where we attended a Meet and Greet dinner hosted by the La Jolla Beach Camp owner Miguel Pabloff who turned out to be a really great guy. Many people also brought with them older clothes and blankets and all sorts of stuff to donate to the less fortunate folks in the area. Miguel was a very generous man and took care of many of the less privileged town families and we helped him out with some donations.
We also had a charity auction where many people in our group brought things others in our group may like as well as some of the local people in the area. The auction took about three hours and was a lot of fun because of some of the auctioneers who were real jokesters. All money raised was put in the pot to be given to four different charities in Mexico which we all voted on.
One of the charities was the Zoo we visited. Our group donated enough money to buy them a portable X-ray machine they could not afford themselves. From what I heard, they cried when our people brought them the money on their return trip. They also received donations of basic tools like gloves, extension cords, screwdrivers, and multi-tools. Other charities were a local school and poor people in town.
Miguel also hands out boxes of food to over 100 families in the local area at Christmas to people that are unable to buy as much food as they need. So many in our group donated food, either brought with them as we knew ahead of time about this, and some went to the local grocery store nearby to buy food and paper products that were desperately needed. After the rally ended, some of the folks accompanied the Wagonmaster and Charity Leader to deliver the goods to poor families themselves. They were welcomed with open arms.
There is also a small school, grades 1 through 5 just a short walk up the road from La Jolla Beach Camp-ground. Some of the playground equipment was in bad need of repairs and quite dangerous. So our group descended on the playground and spent six hours that day scraping, sanding, welding, repairing, and painting the playground equipment and their pic-nic tables. It was a very rewarding experience.
The school gave the kids the day off so they would not be in the way or get hurt but some of the kids came by to see the progress. From what I heard, when the kids returned to school the following day, they were very excited as they saw how we transformed their playground in only one day. Our group even paid for the paint and other supplies needed to spruce up the place.
One day we all loaded into two large air-conditioned tour buses and took a city tour of Ensenada where we visited the Playa Ensenada Hotel-Casino, now the Civic and Cultural Center which was built in 1928. It flourished for years and famous people from Mexico and other countries visited every year. It is also known as Hollywood’s go-to place during prohibition. Many stars could be seen there.
It was a very remarkable building right on the beach until one day when it was closed someone filled in the beach in front of it and built a convention center where the beach used to be. We all had a very good margarita there before moving on to the next stop. For more information and to see more photos of this historic building which is also on the Ensenada City Tour, go to http://rivieradeensenada.com.mx/
We ended the tour that day at the famous Hussong’s Cantina. This is the oldest and best-known cantina in Baja Mexico. Bing Crosby, Steve McQueen, John Wayne, and Marilyn Monroe all were visitors here at one time. The only problem, by the time we arrived at 5:00 PM, there was standing room only, so some of us ended up at Papas and Beers which we didn’t mind at all. For more information about Hussong’s, click here. www.cantinahussongs.com/home.html
The rally officially ended on March 1st. After that, we were on our own. The purpose of this rally was to teach RV’ers how to travel in Mexico. They taught us how to cross the border and how to navigate and drive south of the border. After that, we all went our separate ways.
There were signup sheets next to the Wagonmasters bus on the last four days to gather names of people who would like to continue on to other locations in Mexico. Very few, if any, headed directly back to the U.S. Most people signed up for extended tours into other parts of Mexico as everyone was really enjoying the trip.
Several people stayed at the La Jolla Beach Camp for a few more days and some headed out that day and a few in the days following to head to other destinations. A few came back across the border immediately, but most traveled on to other destinations in Mexico.
I went on to San Felipe on the other side of the Pen-insula along with what turned out to be almost 50% of the group. San Felipe was about a 3-1/2 hour drive east and the temperatures were about 10 degrees warmer and there was no rain on that side while we were there. Carnival was going on there too, but it is a much smaller town so there was not as much going on, but we enjoyed the small town. We ate almost every meal downtown as it was within walking distance and great meals, mostly fish, which could be had for about $8.00 a plate and is very delicious.
Many of us stayed at Victor’s RV Park. It was a very nice campground with some hookups. It was beach-front property but only those that did not need hook-ups camped on the beach. The rest of us parked a hundred yards back or so. Lilly, the manager who is always around at Victor's speaks very good English and they are very nice and you can walk to downtown from there in about 10 minutes. https://www.facebook. com/VictorsRVPark
Some folks wanted to park on the beach out of town, so they stayed at Pete’s Camp which is located eight miles north of downtown San Felipe. Pete’s Camp is a beautiful RV park as well; as long as you don’t require any hookups as it is all dry camping. We went there for Happy Hour one night and the folks who stayed there came to Victor’s for Happy Hour the following night. https://petescamp.com/
Others went further south to see the whales and others moved closer to Ensenada to be closer to the city so they could attend the big city Carnival. Very few as noted earlier headed directly back to the U.S. unless they had pressing issues or had to get back to work. My group came back across the border a couple of days short of one month because our Mexican insurance was running out so we had to get home. We bought vehicle insurance for one month, but many people who traveled further south in Mexico buy a six months policy. My stateside insurance only covered traveling 50 miles south of the border and was somewhat limit-ed. Be sure to contact your insurance company if you plan to travel across the border to ask what you are covered for and how far into Mexico.
This was an awesome trip and I encourage everyone to sign up for next year’s excursion. Details of the trip have not been announced as of this writing but you can find more information at the website listed below. The plan is always to travel south of the border for a few weeks to different places that us Gringos like to visit. Everyone on this trip was great to visit with and came from a variety of different backgrounds.
Folks who travel seem to be a bit more interesting to talk to than those that never leave their home town, in my opinion. This group was no exception. We heard a lot of stories about where people have traveled to and learned a few places that I added to my Bucket List.
For more information go to http://mexicanconnec-tion08.com/ or visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/EscapeesMexicanCon-nection/. On their website, you will be able to sign up for next year’s trip as soon as it is announced.
For even more info about traveling in Baja, check out the Facebook page Talk Baja where Gringos share their stories about traveling and living in Baja. https://www.facebook.com/groups/TalkBaja/
Once you get there, pick up a copy of the Gringo Gazette newspaper, or look them up online at www.grin-gogazette.com. This is a newspaper geared towards Americans traveling in Baja and has “no bad news”. It is a great small paper reporting on what Gringos are doing in Mexico. This would be a good periodical to start reading a few months before your trip to become familiar with living and traveling in Mexico as an American. We saw a LOT of Americans when we went to town in San Felipe as there is a large community of American housing just north of town.
For a PowerPoint presentation of this trip which was created for the national Escapees gathering last month click here.
Hope to see you on the trip next year.
BUSES OF MEXICO
Since July 2012, Gary Hatt has been the Publisher of Bus Conversion Magazine. Gary does most of his own work on his bus with the help of mechanic friends. He has owned tents, truck campers, travel trailers, and stick-n-staple motor-homes until he bought his first bus in 1997 which was a 1972 MCI MC-7 Combo. When he had a chance to buy a 1983 MCI MC-9 Log Cabin bus with larger windows he jumped at the chance. On Thanksgiving of 2014, Gary bought a 1967 Model 08 Eagle and has since been living and traveling fulltime in that.
You may reach Gary Hatt at Gary@BusConversionMagazine.com